BY IFTIKHAR ALI / NAEEM CHAUDHRY
The Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) – wire news service commenced its professional odyssey in 1947coinciding with the birth of Pakistan. It was Initially run through a Trust, but was later taken over by the Government through an Ordinance to retrieve it on sound financial footing.
Editorial staffers of APP continued to preserve their independent professional status under the ordinance notwithstanding financial predicaments faced by the national Agency. APP remains committed to the excellent journalistic traditions by objective, accurate and credible reporting, observing code of ethics with regard to responsible journalism.
Converted into Corporation in October 2002, it was renamed as Associated Press of Pakistan Corporation (APPC), lending a status of semi government media organization. The wire news agency began its lief in small buildings in Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpind, with few reporters repying on bulky typewriters and nosiy tele-printers.
Associated Press of Pakistan – state-run national news agency, has covered events of great historical importance at home, in the region and around the world as well as at the United Nations with distinction through the work of some highly competent and dedicated journalists whose stories in the 50’s, 60’s and up to 70’s were acclaimed nationally and even acknowledged internationally.
Indeed, in that period most copy flowing on APP’s rickety teletype machines could be compared to the service of any news agency in the world, and UNESCO acknowledged that in a 1977 report. But while praising its news service, the UN agency voiced concern over what it called “ancient” teleprinter equipment being used to transmit news, while also expressing dissatisfaction over the poor working conditions in which journalists and other staff were operating. In compliance with UNESCO’s recommendations, APP did make a start in replacing its outdated equipment and carried out other improvements.
In its early years, APP suffered from critical shortage of funds to modernize its equipment and rent better premises for it staff. The news room at its Karachi head office, where all international news agencies linked to APP also had desk space, were so noisy from the clatter of some 12 teletypes that some staffers had to use ear plugs to do their work.
Still its news service was considered credible as it was very professional. The agency has had the honour of having on its roll some of the luminaries in the profession: Mohsin Ali, APP chief reporter in 1947-48 at Karachi, then the agency’s headquarters, is a huge name in international journalism. He was selected by Reuters to work at the agency’s headquarters in London. He went on to become Reuters’ chief diplomatic correspondent in London, overtaking all his British colleagues. In 1961, Mohsin Ali was released by Reuters for 10 days at APP’s request to cover President Ayub Khan’s groundbreaking trip to the United States at the invitation of President John F. Kennedy. His sweeping coverage with assistance from Mukhtar Zaman, our diplomatic correspondent who was also sent to the United States, was highly acclaimed.
Mukhtar Zaman later served as APP correspondent in London and later as the agency’s Director General.
But the biggest star of APP was Karachi-based and US-educated Iqbal Hassan Burney whose copy was masterly as well as full of colour. Editorial staff at newspapers frequently dropped their own correspondents’ copy in favour of his dispatches. Even some American journalists accompanying President Dwight Eisenhower on his 1959 visit to Karachi used his stories for their news media.
At one stage, Burney was sent on a training scholarship to Stanford University. But he was so brilliant that his Dean used his services to teach his students.
Other big names in APP included Abdul Hakim (News Manager later General Manager); A.M.A. Azim (Incharge East Pakistan operations); Safdar Ali Qureshi (Diplomatic correspondent later General Manager); A.B. Azim (London correspondent later Rawalpindi bureau chief), M.A. Mansuri (Senior correspondent and later Dawn’s diplomatic correspondent), Ahmad Basheer (Lahore bureau chief later Director General); Zawwar Hasan (legendary sports reporter who also covered politics and later joined Dawn): Hassan Akhtar Gardezi (Political correspondent later Delhi correspondent), Aslam Sheikh (Political and economic correspondent later Director General), Abul Hashem (Dhaka bureau chief later Delhi correspondent); Hasan Akhtar (Senior correspondent later Dawn’s diplomatic correspondent); Farooq Nisar (Lahore bureau chief later Director-General); M. Aftab (Economic correspondent later Director General); Afzal Khan (Senior political correspondent later Executive Director); Raja Muhammad Asghar (specialist in parliamentary and Kashmir reporting later joined Reuters and Dawn); Shah Alam (Political correspondent later AFP); Ibrahim Khan (sub-editor later political reporter before joining Reuters); Masood Khan (News Editor later AFP); Ralph Joseph (News Editor later UPI), Hafeez-ur-Raman (specialist in court reporting) and Iftikhar Ali, who held a number of positions before being posted in New York).
I.A. Khan, a senior reporter at Karachi, made his name in crime reporting. He had excellent police contacts and produced most readable stories– he also covered in the early 70s the murder in Karachi of poet famous poet Mustafa Zaidi and its linkage with Shahnaz Gul.
Besides Zawwar Hasan, who covered Pakistan’s historic hockey win against India in 1960 Rome Olympics, Karachi-based Shaukat Kamal, who later joined Voice of America, and Lahore-based Muslehuddin, who later became Director of News at Pakistan Television, covered many sports events at home and abroad with distinction.
On Nov. 22, 1963, Ibrahim Khan, then a junior sub-editor, did something extraordinary and beyond the call of his duty. He was alone on duty from 8 PM to 3 AM. Around 1:30 AM, when international news agencies’ teletypes at APP’s headoffice in Karachi came to life and gave out alarm signals. Duty Traffic supervisor Mohammad Wasi shouted at the top of his voice, “Sir, President Kennedy has been shot” as he rushed towards Central Desk where Ibrahim quickly subbed the story, instructed the teleprinter operator to stop transmission and put the Kennedy story on wires — marking it “Out of Sequence”. Thereafter, he quickly moved the details, but about 15 minutes later came the flash about Kennedy’s death. After rushing the story, he looked at the clock and it was nearly 2 a.m. He thought APP subscribers may have gone to sleep and missed the story. So he began ringing up newspapers in Karachi to inform them of the development after instructing APP sub-editor at regional desks in Lahore and Dhaka to do the same in their respective cities. Indeed, some newspapers had already closed their pages, but those who were open profusely thanked him. President Kennedy was hugely popular in Pakistan and he had excellent relations with President Ayub Khan. He thought of seeking Ayub Khan’s reaction and therefore called Information Secretary Altaf Gauhar’s residence in Rawalpindi, only to be told by a servant that he was at Governor’s House in Lahore where the president had gone. By that time APP’s sub-editor in Lahore had left the office. In those days, calls had to be made through operators which took time. Ibrahim then called the Governor’s House exchange, Gauhar was not there and he ultimately got connected to the president’ military secretary. Ibrahim identified himself to him, apologized for disturbing his sleep and informed him of Kennedy’s death. The military secretary, realizing the importance of the development, agreed to put him through to the president. Deeply shocked, the president dictated to Ibrahim his reaction. Before doing the story, Ibrahim sent a memo to the subscribers to wait for president’s reaction story. As Ibrahim had given his phone number to the military secretary, he was called back while he was writing the story. He was given some additional points, including that the president had ordered national flag at half mast for three days. The story was put on wires and Ibrahim also phoned the representatives of foreign news agencies associated with APP before going home after a hard days work. He was handsomely rewards by APP chief– the legendary A.Q. Quereshi for the initiative shown by him. Ayub Khan reaction to Kennedy’s death was among the first world leaders and was featured in international press.
After India announced the fall of Lahore at the start of the 1965 war, Ahmad Basheer from Lahore put out a brilliant story about the reaction of people who began marching towards Wagha border in droves armed with axes, lathis and whatever they could hold of to fight the invader. The eye-witness account was used by all foreign correspondents, who were mostly based in Karachi, as a denial to India’s false report about the capture of Pakistan’s second biggest city.
Lahore also provided a vivid account of a dog fight between Indian and Pakistan war planes right over the city as people watched the game of death from roof tops. The Indian jet was shot down as Lahorites shouted “Bo Kata”. and APP reporters rushed to the site of wreckage to provide more details.
APP also extensively covered Pakistan Army’s successes in the Rann of Kutch operations a couple of months before the 1965 war. Gen. Tikka Khan, who was in command of the troops, was interviewed.
On April 10, 1959, a Pakistan Air Force F-86 shot down a high flying Indian Canberra on Eid day, the first incident of its kind after the establishment of Pakistan. The Indian aircraft, which was on a spy mission, fell near Rawalpindi but its two crew member, who had ejected, were captured by villagers and handed over to the police. The ISPR announcement was followed up by M.K. Naqashbandi who went to the site and interviewed some villagers. He was told that the Indian pilot and his navigator, who were Hindus, posed as Muslims, reciting the Kalima to ensure that they were not harmed.
In 1962, Iftikhar Ali, who was then in Peshawar, reported the forced landing of an Afghan war plane, which had intruded into Pakistani air space, after hot pursuit by PAF jets. This incident also took place on Eid Day. A couple of years earlier, Iftikhar also reported the safe return to Peshawar of a PAF F-104 Starfighter which dodged Indian interceptors while it was in Indian air space.
In 1999, Diplomatic correspondent Iftikhar Ali became the only APP journalist to win the President’s Pride of Performance Medal for excellence in journalism, while noting his reporting from UN headquarters in New York of major events like Bangladesh crisis, Pakistan-backed China’s entry into the United Nations (1971) — the international game changer — the Afghan conflict and a number of international summits. His one-line Flash: “UNITED NATIONS: China in, Taiwan out– APP.” landed 10 minutes ahead of international wire services and was immediately picked up by Radio Pakistan. In giving this high award, the government also took note of the fact that Iftikhar Ali became the first Pakistani to be elected as President of the prestigious United Nations Correspondents’ Association (UNCA) in 1983 and then he headed the Dag Hammarskjold Memorial Scholarship Fund of UNCA for 10 years, the first Asian to hold that post.
Iftikhar Ali also coveted the 1971 Security Council meeting on Bangladesh crisis in which Zukfikar Ali Bhutto staged a dramatic walk out after tearing up his notes. He has covered many sessions of the UN General Assembly during which he interviewed secretaries general and some world leaders.
M. Aftab was the only reporter on the